Mining industry sees value in growing local processing capacity

By Alice Kagina

Published: August 01, 2022 | Updated: August 01, 2022

A worker boils tin at LuNa Smelter in Gasabo District. The firm is the sole producer and exporter of tin in both Eastern and Central Africa. Photo: Sam Ngendahimana

Rwanda only recovers 35 percent of mined minerals, which by end of 2021 generated $516 million. However, to achieve the target of $1.5billion of revenue from exports by 2024, the mining board says it needs at least 60 per cent of recovery rate.

Being the country’s second-largest export revenue earner after tourism, Rwanda’s ambition to boost up the sector lies in local mineral value addition.

The mining industry is confident that existing strides such as the gold refinery, tin smelting plant and others in the pipeline like coltan and diamond processing plants will make local ores competitive on international markets.

Leonidas Kabandana, Managing Director of Afrimaco Ltd, said once the country exports processed minerals at a higher price, even the miner is able to feel the gains in terms of income.

“With price fluctuation on the market, we will be able to negotiate with stable grounds because the other side knows that we are giving them processed products separated from waste,” he said.

Kabandana is of the view that even other sectors should take notes and start exporting processed products whose value translates into shaping a good image of the country, on top of a high income generated if done so.

Uzayisenga Odette, Managing Director of Union Nationale des Mines (UNM) said: “As a miner, there are about four traders between me and the end client who all get a commission, with local processing plants, we will be able to retain high value for our minerals.”

Workers at LuNa Smelter, the sole producer and exporter of tin in both Eastern and Central Africa. / Sam Ngendahimana

With mineral processing plants, one is able to get byproducts from processed minerals, just as you get silver from refined gold.

For instance, Donat Nsengumuremyi, Mining Extraction and Inspection Division Manager, said that currently there is little gain from coltan because they only get value for tantalum on the market while it goes along with niobium as an element.

“Because they are combined in raw form, then we get value for tantalum only and lose that of niobium, something that will change once we have the coltan refinery,” he added.

The coltan processing plant being built in Bugesera Industrial Park is set to be complete by the end of this year, according to him.

However, Francois Ntakiyimana, Executive Secretary of COTRAF, a labour union for workers in the mining sector, said that as the country gains these processing plants, the value must also be felt by miners whose income remains low and lack job security because they are considered as informal workers.

Need for modern technology, improved skills

Kabandana said that to have the mining sector operating at its full capacity, there is a need for modern technology to be utilized in exploration and other activities.

Yamina Karitanyi, CEO of RMB, in a recent interview, told The New Times that financial institutions need to ease procedures so more investments can be channeled in the sector that has been for so long artisanal in order to acquire efficient technologies and equipment.

However, she pointed out that there has been improvement in skills development that contributes heavily to professionalizing the mining sector.

“The University of Rwanda, Rutongo School of Mining, and IPRCs are producing a skilled labour force which now gives an opportunity for them to work but also assist us in enforcing safety standards for the benefit of miners and their families.”

Statistics show that there are more than 3,000 mining sites across the country.


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